I Believe in the Resurrection and Life Eternal
It’s absolutely amazing what some people believe happens to you when you die.
Some folks believe death is the end. Your body shuts down and decomposition begins. There’s no heaven, no hell, no reward, no punishment—simply the end.
Some religious groups have a variation on this view of death. The Later Day Saints and Jehovah Witnesses for example, believe that when they die, they go to an eternal reward, but all non-believers are simply annihilated, and cease to exist. To use a good German word—we’re kaput!
Some believe that your soul is an aura of energy and that when you die it reunites with the cosmic force from which it emanated. This is the theology that comes through in the Star Wars movie series: We all emanate from The Force and we will all become part of it again when we die. It is all very New Age-ish.
Some believe that if you’ve not been good enough to go to heaven or bad enough to warrant hell that your soul simply drifts or wanders. You become an earth-bound spirit, or ghost. Hollywood has popularized this idea with such movies as A Guy Named Joe staring Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne, Forever Young with Mel Gibson, The Canterville with Ghost, with Charles Laughton, and Always with Richard Dreyfuss. When the dead hero does something noble or selfless, then their soul gets to leave this earth. And, or course, they always get to go to heaven.
Some believe that your soul enters another life form—either human or animal—and that it repeatedly does so as it undergoes purification to prepare it to experience absolute nothingness. This is called reincarnation. The most famous proponent of this idea in America today is actress Shirley MacLaine. She believes that she was once an ancient Chinese soldier, a Buddhist monk, a court jester to King Louis XIV, and a mistress to Charlemagne. She also believes her daughter was once her mother in a previous life. Reincarnation reminds me of a hamster forever running in one of those exercise wheels.
The Bible, on the other hand, answers more clearly than any other religious document the question: What Happens When We Die? It answers that question more clearly because this book is the inspired, and the infallible, and the inerrant word of the True and Living God.
Our spiritual forefathers, ended the Apostle’s Creed with the phrase, I believe in the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. The last, irreducible truth of the Christian faith is a belief in our bodily resurrection from the dead, and life lived with Christ in His Kingdom for all of eternity.
I. THE RESURRECTION IS THE HOPE OF THE BELIEVER
- since that first Easter Sunday the desire and expectation of every Christian has been the hope of the resurrection
- 2 Thessalonians 2:14 "It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." NASB95
- God has called us unto salvation that we might eventually gain the glory that we see in the resurrected Lord Jesus
- what is that glory like?
- we have a glimpse of it in the account of the Transfiguration of Christ
- "And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light." (Matthew 17:2, ESV)
- the resurrection of those who die in Christ lies at its heart—if you remove it, Christianity is destroyed belief in the resurrection is not an appendage to the Christian faith—it is the Christian faith
- 1 Corinthians 15:13-19 "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith . . . For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” NIV
- either it happened, or it didn't, and if it didn't, Christianity is a gigantic fraud, and the sooner you leave it behind the better
II. THE RESURRECTED SAVIOR WILL RESURRECT BELIEVERS AT HIS 2nd COMING
- what happens to believers at the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ?
- Christians even in Paul’s day had questions
- the early Christians we’re almost unanimously of the opinion that Jesus would return to earth and establish His kingdom very soon
- as the years, and then the decades, began to roll by, it became apparent that “soon” by God’s standards and “soon” by human standards are not necessarily the same
- some Christians had died and believers where concerned that they would miss out on the 2nd Coming
- Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers to re-assure them
- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” NIV
- we’re resurrected, that’s what!
- why does the Scriptures put such an emphasis upon the resurrection?
- the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth to solve problems and answer questions
- one of the problems in the church at Corinth was that some of the Christians there did not believe in the resurrection
- Corinth was a Greek city, and the Greeks – generally speaking – did not believe in the resurrection
- ILLUS. When Paul had preached at Athens and declared the fact of Christ’s resurrection, some of his listeners actually laughed at him (Acts 17:32). Most Greek philosophers considered the human body a prison, and they welcomed death as deliverance from bondage. This skeptical attitude had somehow invaded the church and Paul had to face it head-on. The truth of the resurrection had doctrinal and practical implications for life that were too important to ignore. Paul dealt with the subject by answering three basic questions
- FIRST, Are the dead raised?
- SECOND, When are the dead raised?
- THIRD, How are the dead raised?
- let me answer try to answer these questions from the Scriptures
A. ARE BELIEVERS RESURRECTED?
- of course!
- OK, so how do we know, what’s the proof?
- Paul presents three proofs to assure his readers that Jesus Christ indeed had been raised from the dead
- FIRST, there is the proof of their own salvation – 1 Cor. 15:1-2
- "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain." (1 Corinthians 15:1-2, ESV)
- the gospel that Paul had preached to them had transformed their lives
- ILLUS. Think about the Twelve Apostles. After the crucifixion, but before the resurrection, they are a bunch of sniveling cowards who have gone into hiding. None of them, save John, had been at their Master’s crucifixion. After the resurrection, they become confident and bold in their faith. It was a living Savior that turned eleven cowering doubters into courageous proclaimers. Most men are not willing to die for a corpse.
- "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures," (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, ESV)
- Paul tells them that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures
- amen, hallelujah, praise the Lord
- Paul also tells them that Christ rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures
- glory be to God
- as a black Baptist preacher would say, “Somebody give me a witness!”
- Psalm 16:8-11, Psalm 22:22, Isaiah 53:10-12, and Psalm 2:7 all predict the resurrection
- "and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed." (1 Corinthians 15:5-11, ESV)
- the Gospels record many post-resurrection appearances of Christ to His disciples
- in this passage Paul says that Christ appeared to over 500 brethren at the same time implying that his appearances could not have been hallucinations
- but the most important post-resurrection appearance of Christ was to the Apostle Paul himself
- as an unbeliever, Paul was soundly convinced that Jesus was a fraud
- the radical change in his life—a change which brought him persecution and suffering—is certainly evidence that the Lord had indeed been raised from the dead
- if He was not raised, there is no Gospel to preach
- if there is no Gospel to preach, then you have believed in vain and you are still in your sins!
- if you are still lost in your sin, then those who have died have no hope—we shall never see them again!
- and if those who have died have no hope of the resurrection, then neither do we—we are we are to be pitied
- the Resurrection is not just important; it is of first importance, because all that we believe hinges on it
- ILLUS. The story is told about a lab assistant to the great chemist Michael Faraday who, one day while aiding Faraday in an experiment, accidentally knocked a silver cup into a solution of acid. It was promptly dissolved, eaten up by the acid. The workman was terribly upset by the accident. Faraday was unfazed. He put a chemical into the vat containing the acid with the now dissolved silver. Shortly all the silver had precipitated to the bottom. He lifted the shapeless mass out of the beaker and sent it to a silversmith. In a few days, the silversmith had re-made the cup. If human genius can do thing like this, why should we doubt that God can raise the dead, and make us glorious like His Son?
B. WHEN ARE BELIEVERS RESURRECTED?
- "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23, NIV)
- Paul paints an interesting picture in v. 20
- he writes that Christ was the firstfruits of all believers who have died
- ILLUS. This is a reference to the Jewish Day of Firstfruits which was part of the Pentecost celebration. On the Day of Firstfruits, the priest waved a sheaf of wheat before the Lord as a sign that the entire harvest belonged to God. Paul’s picture is clear. Jesus was the firstfruit of the resurrection and is a sign that a future resurrection harvest is coming. When Jesus was raised from the dead, it was God’s assurance to us that we shall also be raised one day as part of that future harvest.
- FIRST, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ takes place in power and glory
- 1 Thessalonians 4:16 “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God . . .“ NIV
- it’s an event the entire world will see
- Revelation 1:7 “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.” KJV
- Paul is clear—those believers who have died with Christ will be the very first to be glorified by receiving their resurrection bodies
- 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” KJV
C. HOW ARE BELIEVERS RESURRECTED?
- being philosophers, the Greeks reasoned that the resurrection of the human body was an impossibility
- 1 Corinthians 15:35 “But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” KJV
- after all, when the body died, it simply decayed, turned to dust and rejuvenated the earth’s soil
- FIRST, he compares them to seeds that fall into the ground a sprout
- when you sow seed, you do not expect that same seed to come up at the harvest
- the seed dies, but from that death there comes life
- furthermore, what comes up at the harvest is usually more beautiful than what was planted
- ILLUS. Consider a tiny acorn. Suppose that you had never seen an oak tree, and suppose you had no idea what an acorn would produce. I submit that by studying an acorn by itself, you would never figure out that it would produce an oak tree. There is nothing in the visual inspection that would lead you to suspect that such a tiny thing could produce such a magnificent result. But plant the acorn, let it grow, and then come back in 50 years to see what it has produced. From that humble beginning has come an amazing tree, with limbs that stretch in every direction and leaves that provide a vast green canopy. But now let’s work it the other way. Suppose you knew nothing about acorns, and nothing about how oak trees grow. You would be hard pressed to imagine that such a mighty tree could come from such a humble beginning. Place the acorn and the oak tree side by side. You can hardly get them in the same frame together. One is so small and insignificant; the other so mighty and so impressive. But (and this is the whole point) the acorn contained the mighty oak tree all along. It was there all along, waiting for the right time and place to come out. How does it happen? The acorn must be planted in the ground and it must die before the oak tree can appear. But without the humble acorn, there would be no oak tree at all.
- today we are humble acorns—just a bunch of nuts!
- not much to look at and not very impressive
- the day will come when we must die and be planted in the ground
- ILLUS. By the way, when we talk about “planting Uncle Joe” in the ground, that’s not just a joke. That’s good biblical terminology. We “plant” Christians in the ground in the prospect of their coming resurrection from the dead.
- as the acorn dies to produce to the mighty oak, even so we die and our death becomes the gateway to our future resurrection
- there is human flesh
- there is animal flesh
- there is fish flesh
- there is bird flesh
- and there is resurrection flesh
- planets—which are terrestrial bodies—have a different and significantly less glory than celestial bodies—which are stars
- and even the stars differ in brightness one from another
- now our bodies are corruptible (the word means perishing), but after the resurrection they shall be incorruptible or imperishable
- now our bodies are mortal, but after the resurrection they shall be immortal
- now our bodies are dishonorable but after the resurrection they shall be glorious
- now our bodies are natural bodies, but after the resurrection they are spiritual bodies
- now our bodies are weak, but after the resurrection they are powerful
- God will give to us a glorified body suited to life in His eternal kingdom
- it will be as unlike our present body in quality as the glory of the sun is unlike a mushroom in the cellar
- we will use this new body to serve and glorify God for all eternity
III. THE RESURRECTED HAVE THE PROMISE OF ETERNAL LIFE
- ILLUS. Our earthly tent is being torn down. I remember reading that when someone asked John Quincy Adams how he was doing, Adams replied something to the effect of, “John Quincy Adams is well, sir, very well. The house in which he has been living is dilapidated and old, and he has received word from its Maker that he must vacate soon. But John Quincy Adams is well, sir, very well.”
- in the same way our earthly tent is being torn down
- but when it’s gone, we’ll have a building from God, eternal in the heavens
- here then is the final clause of The Apostles’ Creed—I believe in life eternal!
- life with Jesus that goes on and on and on
Con. Are you ready? You must be spiritually prepared. It is this area of life where so many are found wanting. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14, NIV). ILLUS. Listen to the following obituary that could be found in any newspaper on any given day in America.
He wore his rubbers when it rained.
He brushed his teeth TWICE a day — with a nationally advertised toothpaste.
The doctors examined him twice a year.
He slept with the windows open to get fresh air.
He stuck to a diet with plenty of fresh vegetables.
He relinquished his tonsils and traded in several wornout glands.
He exercised — but never over-did it.
He got at least eight hours' sleep every night.
He never smoked, drank or lost his temper.
The funeral will be held Wednesday. He's survived by eight specialists, three health institutions, two gymnasiums and numerous manufacturers of health foods and antiseptics. He forgot God.
Eternity is real — the only question is "Where will you be spending it?"